More than a year after filing a wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. women’s national soccer team has agreed to a new set of wages in a collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation. The team had been fighting for equal pay since well before the EEOC complaint, protesting that players got paid up to 40 percent less than members of the U.S. men’s team and were forced to abide untenable working conditions.
The agreement, which was ratified on Tuesday night, does not go as far as equal pay, however. But the New York Times reports that players will get substantial raises, including a more than 30 percent increase in base pay and better bonuses for individual games. If the team does well, this could more than double some players’ yearly takes to over $300,000. Members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team already made more than the men in base salary, but a heavily skewed bonus structure meant that the women could have their winningest season while the men had their worst, and the men would still make more money.
The new bonus structure won’t totally close that gap, but it will make a promising step toward mitigating it. And the women’s team was able to get its traveling per diems raised to be equal to those of the men’s team, fixing one of the most glaring and least explicable inequities. U.S. Soccer will give women’s team players two years of back pay for unequal per diems and more financial benefits for pregnant or adopting players.
One of the tensest moments for the equal-pay fight came before the Summer 2016 Olympic Games, when it seemed like the U.S. women’s team, fresh off a World Cup win, might go on strike to push U.S. Soccer to ratify a better contract for the team. The U.S. Senate even made a rare unanimous vote last May in favor of a resolution calling for equal pay for the team, perhaps hoping to head off a bout of bad pre-Olympics publicity for a team that had won the nation’s hearts a year earlier. The new agreement will last for five years, taking the team through the next Women’s World Cup in 2019 and the 2020 Olympics, so the prospect of another strike is less likely this time around. (The previous collective bargaining agreement had expired, leading to a quarrel between the team and the federation over whether it still applied.)
There’s still a lot we don’t know about the new agreement—whether the team will try to rescind its EEOC complaint, for instance, and whether the agreement will provide for better conditions that will preclude the team from having to refuse to play on dangerous turf, like it did in Hawaii in 2015. But there's no question this is a battle won. The larger war, however, continues: Until FIFA, an organization that has long fielded accusations of sexism, starts paying U.S. Soccer the same bonuses for men’s and women’s World Cup wins—a gap that currently spans tens of millions of dollars—unequal pay in soccer will remain a problem.